I’d rather be a farmer!

Photo credit: Larry Cuban on school reform

From the ages of 17 to 22 years old, I spent numerous Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays working in a variety of factories. I have worked in furniture factories, crisp factories, video-packaging factories; I have even worked in slaughterhouses. During my time in these factories, I worked in various locations found inside most modern factories. These included the assembly line, the packaging zone, the storage bay, the canteen and the warehouse.

So..what did I learn from my time in factories?

I didn’t like them! In fact, I really didn’t like them!


I didn’t like them because I didn’t feel challenged. In fairness, it must be added that I was also extremely lazy when I was 17 to 22 years old.

Did I learn anything?

Yes. Absolutely!

Was it worthwhile learning?

Hmm…I definitely learned a variety of factory skills (life-skills?) i.e. how to correctly wrap plastic roll around a large cardboard box or how important it was to keep your knife sharp when you were slicing through a dead turkey.

Personally, I found the work unrewarding, repetitive and dull. I just didn’t gain any sense of satisfaction from the different jobs I was doing.

And now we are calling the current, and previous, 150 years of educational modus operandi ‘The Factory Model’. Wow! I mean from a personal and research point of view the term certainly seems to fit; and that my friends is worrying!

Ironically, the skills required by the game curriculum—problem identification, hypothesis testing, analysis, interpretation, and strategic thinking more closely align with the new economy than does the “factory” model of curriculum, which privileges following directions, mastering predefined objectives, performance on highly structured tasks, and intellectual obedience (Gee, Hull, and Lankshear 1996). In short, schools are designed around factory models of education, where the goal is to efficiently produce standardized learners and, most importantly, sort students into those groups and games are products of the new economy, where the goal is to think creatively with digital tools (Bowles and Gintis 1976; Lagemann 1989).  Changing the game – what happens when video games enter the classroom – Kurt Squire

There is no denying that factories are an essential part of the industrial world, but do I really want my children, and the children I teach, to be a part of this system?

I don’t know how many times I have seen educators use this animated video of Ken Robinson’s ‘Changing Educational Paradigms’ to espouse the virtues of the creative over the factory model of teaching and learning.

Yet no matter how many times the different groups of educational lecturers, teachers and administrators infuse the audience with Mr Robinson’s superb ideas and summaries, we always come back to the baseline – does it fit into the current school and curriculum-based system that we operate?

And the answer is most definitely ‘No’!

Is this where we leave it then? Again the answer is most definitely ‘No’!

I suggest that in today’s digitally flipped world we are being given more tools than ever to create farming zones within these rigid educational factories. Some of these tools include the flipped (or rotated classroom), Student led learning as well as Gamification and Game-based learning.

Right now, even if you had the ideal game—a more polished Civilization III or perhaps a Full Spectrum Scientist, it is not certain that such a game could even survive in today’s educational environment as our contemporary educational systems do not know how to sustain a curricular innovation built on the properties that make games compelling. Changing the game – what happens when video games enter the classroom – Kurt Squire

Game-based learning allows the factory to become a farm

Here is an example of how you can start to bring the rural creativity of farm-based learning into your factory. This Historical game is based on a previous game-based learning activity which I posted last year.

Can I also add that I trialled this lesson with my Year Three (Grade 2) students last year and that it worked like a dream. Reactions included intense dialogue which lasted into the break time and beyond, personal refection on their failure as an individual/group or class, the unfairness of the whole game and the difficultly of living in the Stone Age.


Unit plan – Lesson 2

Weekly ‘End of level Boss’!

This week my end of level boss will be to introduce the game – Civilization Revolution for the iPad into pre-lesson time /break time and lunch time sessions.

Although all the students already have their own iPads, they don’t have this game on their devices so I will provide two pairs of pre-selected students with my own iPads and ask them to try and complete one game (over the course of a week) on intermediate level difficulty.

The reason for this – After reading the article Changing the game by Kurt Squire I am interested to see the reaction a more compact/child friendly version of the game might have on my own students. I aim to use a high achieving none-game playing pair of students and a lower achieving game-playing pair of students to test the game as future platform for Historical learning within the classroom/school.

Results of last week’s ‘End of level Boss’!

Overall, the students seemed to love the game.

However, the most interesting aspect of the students playing the game Nitrotype , was my introduction to another game – Dance Mat typing. If you are thinking of teaching ‘Touch Typing’ I would definitely recommend this as a possible game-based solution.

I want to work with you!


Photo credit: Pixabay
Photo credit: Pixabay

Does connectivism have a real shot at being a true learning theory?

Yes! Well…mainly yes!

As the new coordinator of primary history at our school (sorry if you have read any of my previous posts where I have mentioned this numerous times) I would argue that connectivism is now an essential part of a school’s structure. Let me begin with a few moans, then I will get onto the reasons why I think that certain aspects of connectivism are essential for a modern school.

I don’t know about you but I can’t begin to count the number of school training sessions where I am supposed to have been given a new skill, learning tool or pedagogical approach and then never used it; or have never been able to use it or have never had the time to use it. Of course this isn’t true of most training or INSET sessions. No! Credit where credit is due-most are very helpful and include speakers who provide you with a sense of drive and purpose!

Then there are planning sessions. During my time in education I have experienced all of the following while I have been part of a planning session: depression, enjoyment, frustration, happiness, boredom, apathy and jubilation. Generally, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy planning sessions with my current year group; this is largely thanks to the great team I work with.

However, I am also aware that there are other teachers at my school whom I have never planned with and have always wanted to plan with. So I decided that I would create history planning groups where I could connect and plan with other teachers I don’t normally get the chance to plan alongside.

This term, I have taken three different plans from three different year groups and invited teachers from different year groups (YR to Y6) to help me deconstruct and improve each of the plans. And…the results have been promising; in fact they been extremely promising. I would actually say that the first of these planning meetings was probably the best planning session I have ever been a part of. The key to this meeting being such a success lay in the willingness of the different participants to share and trust each other with their ideas and knowledge. In essence they/we connected and shared our ideas, knowledge and concepts. This allowed us to develop completely new approaches to each of the lessons we had been adapting.

The management and marshalling of resources to achieve desired outcomes is a significant challenge. Realizing that complete knowledge cannot exist in the mind of one person requires a different approach to creating an overview of the situation. Diverse teams of varying viewpoints are a critical structure for completely exploring ideas. Innovation is also an additional challenge. Most of the revolutionary ideas of today at one time existed as a fringe element. An organizations ability to foster, nurture, and synthesize the impacts of varying views of information is critical to knowledge economy survival. Connectivism- a learning theory for the digital age 

I am sure that many of you already have these sort of planning approaches in operation at your current schools. At the schools I have worked at, the process for planning certain subject lesson plans has always fallen to either the year group or subject leader with little or no input from outside those two areas. However, through the connections the other teachers and I formed in these planning sessions we created a foundation for a new, improved plan to be born.

These are some of the key principles of connectivism (taken from Connectivism- a learning theory for the digital age ) which I think were essential to the planning process we undertook when revamping the historical plan we were working on:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.

I have included the plan we reconstructed because I honestly think it may well be the best history plan I have had the pleasure to work on. I would also like to conclude that whether or not you truly believe connectivism has a shot at being a learning theory – I certainly do! And I will continue to believe that it needs to be considered as an essential and integral part of a modern school’s learning environment!


Out with the Old! In with the New!

Me  versus  Me

Date: This time last year (part 1)
At this time, I was still relatively new to my year group and was currently in the middle of my second term. Being part of a new year group, I was less willing to take risks with the structure of my lessons. Although, as a year group, we were adapting and changing the planning I wasn't really comfortable moving beyond the parameters of the planning that we had agreed on-TOO RISKY!


Date: This year, current time (part 1)

Wehay! I am no longer new to my year group and feel more comfortable with the subjects I am teaching. I have also started the COETAIL course and feel more empowered to adapt and change the lessons that I teach. Ultimately, I feel more able to experiment with different technologies and teaching styles.

Date: This time last year (part 2)
I am teaching the first lesson of our Religious Education Unit on Sikhism. I decide to follow the lesson plan exactly. The first part of the lesson involves the children sitting together on the carpet and watching a PowerPoint of photographs showing different aspects of Sikh  life. The children then work in pairs to discuss what they have watched while deciding what questions they would like to find the answers to. Meanwhile, I act as the question coordinator for student feedback while the rest of the children listen to the responses of their peers-PLAY IT SAFE! MAKE SURE THE CHILDREN ASK THE QUESTIONS I WANT THEM TO ASK!


Date: This year, current time (part 2)

Again, it is time to teach the first lesson of the RE unit but this time I am going to combine the lesson with a recent unit on ‘Staying Safe’. It may work! It may not! But I am going to have a go and see what happens. So, this time the children work on laptops with access to a locally networked version of the same PowerPoint. As before, they are creating different questions based on what they observe about Sikh life from the PowerPoint. They can choose to work individually, with partners or in groups-it is entirely up to them! I am still unsure about their ability to use Google Docs or Microsoft Word so I get them to write their questions in their books! STILL PLAYING IT SAFE, AS I AM NOT COMFORTABLE WITH USING GOOGLE DOCS IN CLASS YET!

Date: This time last year (part 3)
The Children go off to quietly write their questions in books. After they have finished, we come back to the carpet and share some more of the questions they have come up with. We then talk about some of the answers to the questions that they are interested in-to be honest I actually provide some of the answers, but not all, as I simply don't know most of the answers to the questions-MUST MAKE SURE THEY HAVE BEEN GIVEN SOME OF THE ANSWERS BECAUSE THEN I KNOW THEY HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT SIKHISM!


Date: This year, current time (part 3)

So, they have finished writing out their questions about the PowerPoint on Sikh life. Now I ask them if they would like to find some of the answers to their own questions. The class feedback suggests that they are keen to find the answers to the original questions they were interested in asking. So this is where we add our cross-curricular link to a previous safety lesson on search engines. The children are given a choice of four different search engines, that they have previously evaluated, to find the answers to their questions. As they attempt to use the search engines to find the answers to their questions they are also asked to think about the usefulness of each of the search engines they are using.

The children now switch to searching for the answers to their questions while also deciding which search engine is the safest, most appropriate and most effective. At the end of the lesson the children feedback any facts about Sikhism that they think their peers might be interested in as well as providing information on the functionality of the search engines they have used.

Has technology been effectively embedded within the curriculum?

For this reworked lesson, I would say that the answer has to be ‘Yes!’

I took a chance with this lesson and decided to combine technology with a flipped lesson approach. The use of the laptops to create questions worked quite well but I think it would have worked much better with some form of online or desktop word processor e.g. Google Docs or Microsoft Word. The only problem with this would have been the time factor; you see, my current class tend to take five times longer typing than they do writing.

It also has to be said that the cross curricular link with the ‘Safety unit’ worked really well and actually got many of the children thinking not only about the different facets of Sihkism but also the importance of using the right search engine.

What does this mean?

It means that technology can be embedded within any curriculum area; it may only be applied in a single lesson; it may become an integral part of the whole unit; it may be used as a homelearning task. The point is that it can be used on any level, and at any level, within any curriculum format. While looking at the NETS standards for students, I was pretty certain that the children had met the following standards:

1c.Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues
3b.Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media
3c. Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks
4c. Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions
6b. Select and use applications effectively and productively

Remember- all you need are the resources and the willingness to take a chance!




Of course you can always stack the deck: